Frontbenchers on Tuesday left Parliament smiling after they successfully persuaded the House to abandon the fight over the health sector funding, setting the stage for expected passage of the Shs11.4 trillion budget in the next few days.
In the past week or so, ruling party members had joined the opposition in pushing for increased funding for what they all agreed was a “dilapidated” health sector.
The government was on the back foot, at one point State minister for planning Matia Kasaija indicated that concessions could be made to MPs’ demands. However, when Speaker Rebecca Kadaga put the question on a key motion, NRM MPs made a u-turn on the Shs260 billion demand and heckled whoever attempted to argue against the government’s Shs49.5 billion offer.
‘Divide- and- rule strategy’
Parliament’s reversal of positions was reportedly secured through what some MPs have called a “divide- and- rule” strategy used by President Museveni after he was heckled by at the NRM Caucus last week. The President is reported to have spent considerable time last week holding secret meetings with selected MPs amid that money was allegedly changing hands.
“Those MPs who voted for Shs49.5billion instead of Shs260billion betrayed Ugandans and they have blood on their hands,” Mr Theodore Ssekikubo told Daily Monitor yesterday. “Even those who took inducements from State House should know that they ate blood money. Our people are dying because of a neglected healthcare system yet some MPs are just busy belching.”
Mr David Bahati, deputy chair of the ruling party caucus, however, has refuted claims that MPs were bribed to change positions. Although Health Minister Christine Ondoa had told the House’s Health Committee that her docket needed Shs260 billion, at the height of the deadlock, on Tuesday she came to the House with a statement demanding Shs49.5 billion to recruit 6,172 health workers. In her statement, the minister was silent about the crisis facing the health sector.
Dr Ondoa said her ministry had worked out a cost effective establishment that can make health centre IIIs and IVs fully functional. This would involve 19 workers at health centre IIIs (14 health workers and five support staff) and two doctors for health centre IVs plus 47 other professional and support staff. “The money for this will be, either wholly or in part, raised this financial year and of course in the subsequent years,” Dr Ondoa said.
After Dr Ondoa set the stage, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi stood up with a government position on the stand-off, talking up the provision of Shs49.5 billion instead of Shs39.2 billion which the House Budget Committee had saved from making cuts to various votes in the budget.
Lifted by cheers from NRM MPs, Mr Mbabazi enthused: “I am happy to inform you and this August House that we have managed to struggle and get sufficient funds to embark on the recruitment of a total 61,172 health personnel at health centre IIIs and IVs.” He added: “Accordingly, we have managed to identify additional Shs6.5 billion as seed money to enable Ministry of Health to start on this endeavour. This will enable the ministry to embark on recruitment of categories of health workers … medical officers working at health centre III will earn Shs2.5 million per month including consolidated allowance.”
Sources on the Budget Committee have suggested to Daily Monitor that a deal was made with Tim Lwanga’s Budget committee to parade Shs49.5 billion as a significant figure compared to the Shs39.2 billion earlier identified by Parliament.
This could explain why the Budget Committee did not table any report in spite of having spent days deliberating on the divisive matter, effectively blocking Ms Cerinah Nebanda’s (NRM, Butalejja Woman) planned minority report.
Realising that the NRM majority had been swayed by Shs49.5 billion deal, Speaker Kadaga overruled any attempts to reject the government comprise. At some point during Tuesday’s stormy debate, Ms Kadaga asked MPs to appreciate the government deal even as some members led by the western youth representative, Mr Gerald Karuhanga, accused her of bending House rules to help the government break the deadlock on the budget.
“[The] Speaker erred,” Ms Karuhanga said, adding: “Rules 208, 193 and 71 (4) are very clear on how debate should be conducted, but all these were disregarded by the Speaker. The Budget Committee chairperson should have tabled a report but he came without any written document. This was pure politics yet some of us wanted to save Ugandans who are dying in hospitals without drugs and health workers.”
When Mr Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) challenged the government’s Shs49.2 billion proposal, reminding Parliament that the financial requirement for the Health ministry was Shs260 billion, Mr Lwanga, who was equally accused of having been compromised, told him that the Budget Framework Paper, a document containing the budget plans for all ministries had been overtaken by events.
In its initial plan, Ministry of Health wanted Shs121 billion to retain health workers currently on the payroll (58 per cent staff establishment) by enhancing their salaries by 50 per cent. However, the government’s new deal has only increased salaries for doctors at health centre IIIs from Shs1.2 million to Shs2.5 million.